Theater Review - Atlanta actress lives a dog"s life in "Sylvia"

Amanda Cucher takes on the role originally played by Sarah Jessica Parker in Stage Doors' latest production

Amanda Cucher is becoming one of Atlanta's most sought-after stage actresses, and this month she takes on a new challenge playing the title role in Stage Door Players' production of Sylvia. No, it's not a show about a poet with her head in the oven — in this comedy by A.R. Gurney, Cucher will portray a dog adopted by husband and wife Greg and Kate (James Baskin and Jo Howarth, respectively).

The play was originally produced at the Manhattan Theatre Club in 1995, starring Sarah Jessica Parker in the lead role. Cucher actually saw that version with her parents, which she laughs about now because even though Stage Door's version of the story has been edited to remove some of the racier language, it's still not exactly a child-friendly play. Don't expect a stage version of Lassie or Frankenweenie, though Cucher says it's hilarious and has some touching moments.

"A lot of people think it's about a dog, but it's really not," Cucher says. "It's a love story about a husband and wife in their golden years, and the personality and role changes that they've gone through since they have been married for 22 years."

As we watch the couple's relationship with Sylvia evolve during the course of the play, from the 1970s to the 1990s, we also see how their feelings for each other change over time.

So how does one prepare to play a dog? While an admitted cat person, Cucher still always played "Aunt Mandy" to her friends' dogs growing up, confessing, "I used to spoon with a pit bull!" She has been getting a workout running around as a puppy, and she was initially alarmed when she realized that she'd be trading her shorts and tank top rehearsal wear for a costume of a wool sweater and jeans, but she laughs, "I'm expecting to have quite the diet!"

This role will be a big switch from her performance last year as a young nun in Doubt at Out of Box Theatre, but she has demonstrated her versatility before. She has appeared in several plays by Topher Payne, including portraying the titular New York City teacher in Evelyn in Purgatory (Essential Theatre) and a young alien bride in Lakebottom Prime (OnStage Atlanta). She also appeared in decidedly unglamorous garb in Johnny Drago's comedy Trash. Cucher enjoys Stage Door Players, citing the artistic direction of Robert Egizio, who takes pains to consider the time of his actors by staging a dry tech rehearsal in advance of the final run-through to avoid having the actors and the stage crew working out their final kinks at the same time.

Of course, time is valuable to Cucher, who, like most actors in Atlanta, also has a day job or two. She works part time at a law firm and spends time with a volunteer organization helping people with special needs develop social skills. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, after all.

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